New Podcast Interview at Music Tech Fest

Those of you who’ve been around here for a while will remember that I used to do interesting music economy stuff with a gang called New Music Strategies. NMS was originally Andrew Dubber‘s blog from the mid-noughts, on which he launched his utterly ground-breaking ‘Music In The Digital Age‘ eBook. Around 2009 he decided to use the NMS banner to launch what was loosely termed a consultancy, but was just a collective identity for a bunch of people doing smart thinking about the music economy. Our manifesto, such as it was, was ‘more music by more people in more places’, and aside from speaking at conferences and developing each other’s ideas, one of the most tangible NMS outputs was the NMS Podcast that Dubber and I had from 2011-13.

Fast forward to this year, Dubber is now Director of MTF, living in Sweden and post-academia. I’m knee-deep in PhD-land and swimming upstream in the new music economy via the exploration of subscription as a model for sustainability and improvisation in the age of streaming media…

So it was a really good time for a podcast catch-up, and as luck would have it, Dubber now hosts the rather brilliant weekly MTF Podcast. It’s properly recorded – our episode and many others were recorded at the 100th UnConvention in Salford this year – unlike our wine-pizza-ZoomH1-and-conversation approach back in the NMS days, and the result is probably the most succinct document of what I’m up to that has yet been produced (the ScottsBassLessons podcast from 2016 is also worth a listen)

So click here to listen to me on the MTF Podcast. And don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there – it’s a great listen every week.

I hope one day Dubber and I get to revive the podcast – he’s one of my best friends, and I doubt I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for his influence and encouragement back in the late 00s. We filled in for each other on speaking gigs and spent countless hours exploring what the digital age had to offer musicians, and the challenges it presents. In the final analysis, his influence on hundreds of thousands of musicians in the nascent social media era changed the way we do what we do. That he and I got to swap ideas and refine them while having an awful lot of fun is one of the most enjoyable things in my adult life 🙂

A Reflection on Improv, Audiences and Recording

My recorded output is divided sharply into live and “studio” recordings. The equipment and audio process are identical for them both but the presence of a live audience completely changes the experience. When I’m in the studio (such a professional sounding euphemism for “the corner of the bedroom”) my audience is me, my aesthetic decisions, my moment to moment assessment of what needs to happen to is made in relation to my own taste, in dialogue with my own history, with whatever I’ve been working on and the lingering shadows of whoever has been inspiring me of late.

steve lawson playing bass

But live, the audience are present on the music. I interpret their presence, I respond to who’s there, to the sounds and gestures that I’m aware of while playing, and to my projected imagining of what their experience is like. I play to them, and for them but also with them and I become them, projecting my own understanding of what my experience would be were I not the one with a bass in my hands…

Listening back to any recording is a fascinating exercise in time-shifting the audio record of that moment, live or studio, and re-experiencing it with its own extant nature as a factor instead of the sense of possibility that exists in the unfolding.

So recordings are a translation of that experience and its quite possible for something to “work” on the moment but not as a recording or vice versa to feel like a failure live and then blossom under scrutiny.



I’ve been listening to my latest solo album on the way to work this morning, which is without doubt my favourite thing I’ve ever recorded. It’s also the most “successful” thing I’ve released in many many years. I was trying to remember the experience of improvising it all and some of the performances are still vivid in my mind (aided by the video that exists on YouTube of the actual recordings 🙂 )



Anyway, here it is if you want to hear it – just remember that, first time through, you share the sense of becoming that I had as it emerged in the moment. Second time through, you’re experiencing something wholly new – improvised music that now exists in relation to the memory of itself.

What’s So Special About An Improvised Gig?

Things I adore about improvised music, pt 593:

This is a quote from a book I’m re-reading for my PhD, called Coughing And Clapping, all about audiences and music:

“The pop music gig is a unique and visceral event, which at its most resonant can be a consummate experience involving all the senses. There is a real feeling for the concert-goer of it being for one night only, in that place, at that time, and of being something that can never be replicated – despite the fact that the band will often be playing the same numbers with the same light show on subsequent nights of the tour.” [1]

It sums up beautifully my feelings about the sleight of hand of playing the same thing night after night and hoping that something magical happens and it connects. There are obviously some bands who allow the circumstances to alter the music to a greater or lesser degree – for some, the songs are basically jumping-off points for whatever comes next – but for most pop/rock bands, the majority of the performance is set in stone. Or if not stone, then at least stale bread. Or that weird green stuff that soaks up water that you put flowers in.

For an improv gig, no such assumptions can be made. And the audience’s presence completely alters the music. The music is not only FOR you, but in a very real way, BY you – you change it. Like Jedis at Christmas, we feel your presence. We respond to the room, the people in it, the conversations before the gig, to smiles and looks of consternation, to interruptions, to the decor, to traffic noise. The music is an amalgam of everything in that moment, and if you weren’t there it would be different. So you get to have that experience of something unique 4 REALZIES. It actually happens.

My next gig is in a couple of weeks in Birmingham, and it’s all improv. Andy, Phi and I will be collaborating with whoever shows up, with the venue (we LOVE the Tower Of Song – such a welcoming, warm place to play dangerous music 🙂 ) and we’ll promise you a night of wholly original music that will stay with you, and will be uniquely yours. No-one else will ever get to say that they saw it, unless they were there on that night. Make plans, bring friends, come be a part of the history that will be made, and that is made every time improvisors step onto the stage, swallow the voice that pops up that says ‘er, what happens if *this time* it all goes to shit??’ and instead create something magical. For you. And your ears.

[1] Kronenburg, R. 2014. Safe and Sound: Audience Experience in New Venues for Popular Music Performance. In: Burland, K. and Pitts, S. eds. Coughing and clapping: Investigating audience experience. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Thinking Out Loud – Improvisation, Complexity and Repeatability

Part 2 of me thinking out loud (I’m adding this opening paragraph 1300 words into this, so I know already that this contains some quite epic conjecture and points that desperately need backing up/refuting with actual research… which is great, as that’s kind of the point 🙂 )

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So, in defining what improvisation actually is, I want to get into an interrogation of the context within which whatever it is exists. I’m fascinated by the historical transformation in our perceptions of what ‘music’ even is, as highlighted in Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay ‘The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction’.

Mechanical reproduction made a few things possible that were never even imaginable before – a lot of the stuff that Benjamin gets into is about the cultural impact of dissemination – access outside of the sacred turf of the concert hall and the gallery, the loss of space as part of the curated experience of art. But perhaps even more important for music is the possibility of repetition without memory. And exact repetition at that. Reproduction not re-performance. No subtle changes, no advantaging to the skill of being about to do a thing the same over and over again, just the ability to do a thing really well and then let technology take over so that everyone can hear that one time you did the amazing thing.

So, let’s back up a little – what were the factors in repeatability and its counterpart ‘knowability’ – the properties of being able to be known – what were the mechanisms of recall, what were the methods of transmission that dictated how we perceived, shared, performed and experienced music?


Continue reading “Thinking Out Loud – Improvisation, Complexity and Repeatability”

Thinking out loud – Improvisation

So, as many of you know, I’ve started a PhD. I’m looking at Improvisation, specifically the audience experience of improvisation. And it’s ‘practice based’, so the real focus is the audience experience of my improvised music.

“Why not just look at improvised music, at playing it?” Good question, imaginary Internet questioner. I think the main motivations are that

  • this seems to be a massively under-explored area, and
  • I kind of know what I’m doing with improv – I could write it up and record a load of music, but I needed some other focus to help me dig deeper into it. Thinking more inwardly about what I do and why didn’t feel like a journey I needed to go on right now – at least, not any more than it’s already one that I’m on every waking hour of my life anyway…

So the audience experience, as it relates to my music, feels like a rich and worthwhile area of exploration for a number of reasons. Continue reading “Thinking out loud – Improvisation”